Some events in one’s life are of such supreme importance that they remain etched in one’s memory forever. One of these, perhaps, is starting school. I quite distinctly remember the time when I was about four years old and my mother, without any preamble, announced that very soon I would have to go to school. This was back in the good old days when the majority of four year olds were artless and innocent, and so the prospect of going to school appeared rather frightening to me. Ignorance is said to breed fear and so afraid I was, since I only had a very vague idea of what a school would be like. Though my mother tried her best to reassure me, expounding on the joys and delights of school and the affable and benevolent nature of teachers, the thought of being away from my parents and my home did not appeal to me at all and I dreaded the day my carefree and happy life would be shattered and I would have to conform to the idiosyncratic ideals of grownups.
The day finally arrived when I was jolted out of my reverie and rudely woken up by my mother early in the morning. Despite my vehement protests I was made to don my newly acquired uniform and was soon on my way to school with a scrupulously scrubbed face, slicked down hair and polished shoes.
The school seemed immense. We went up a seemingly endless flight of stairs and entered a room full of boys and girls of my size. A kindly looking lady greeted us warmly and soon my mother and she were engaged in earnest conversation. The next thing I knew, my mother kissed me goodbye and went out the door. Though I did have a vague idea that this was to happen I was still not prepared for the suddenness of this eventuality and so gave vent to my feelings by howling as loudly as possible and running after my mother. The kindly looking lady, with an alacrity which belied her appearance, grabbed hold of me with one hand and shut the door with the other. Before I could think of another escape plan all windows and doors had been closed and the inmates of that room were looking at my histrionics with amusement and an air of superiority which seemed to say: “Been there, done that!”
Surprisingly when I realized that there was no escape I quieted down and very soon started to feel at home. And so this was my first day at school: a school in which I was to spend 13 years of my life, only to leave it when I was an adult myself.This was 1968 and times were simpler and the pace of life rather slow. We just had a year of Preparatory class and then it was grade 1. I remember most of the teachers who taught me at Junior Burn Hall. Many of them had been there for years and became iconic figures of the time. My prep class teacher, Mrs Malik, who I still clearly remember was an extremely nice and affectionate lady. She had a wonderfully calm and soothing manner and always seemed to be smiling. She was, I suppose, my first encounter with authority and I am grateful to her for making my first experience of school enjoyable and something to reminisce about.
I was generally a good student and studies and school were not a burden to me; I could even find them enjoyable on good days and so my affair with Burn Hall started on a high note. The Mill Hill Fathers were running Burn Hall then and my memories of them from those times are warm and pleasant. I distinctly remember Father Zonnewelde, who was a very good-natured and genial headmaster. I still can see him strolling through the students at break time and randomly picking up a little one to hoist him to his shoulder; once I was the recipient of this exclusive affection and I literally felt not just on top of his shoulder but also on top of the world!
The mention of Father Zonnewelde also brings back another memory. My mother used to be the headmistress at the Girls High School in Abbottabad and she would send over my ‘lunch’ in the break by hand. An old maid, Meera’n Maasi was entrusted with this task. The school then had short, 4 foot high walls and the gates would open for all these lunch bringers, who were usually outside the gates waiting, when the break started. One day Meer’an Maasi was in a hurry and when she saw me in the ground, she just climbed over the wall and rushed to me. The gate keeper would have none of it and he marched her to Father Zonnewelde and complained vehemently against her conduct. Father Zonnewelde looked somewhat perplexed as to how to deal with the indignant looking Maasi (maid). Still, rather kindly, he asked her not to climb over the wall again. The Maasi lashed back: ‘Jay mein kund utto’n tai juldi tay kau’n zimmawaar hondha?’ (If I had fallen while climbing the wall, who would be responsible?) Father Zonnewelde was so nonplussed that he could not speak and the Maasi marched off muttering to herself!
The teachers in Junior Burn Hall were ‘old school’ teachers. They were iconic figures to us, each affectionately known for her own idiosyncrasies and personality. Who can forget the tall, stately figure of Mrs Iftikhar or the awe-inspiring and somewhat frightening, Mrs Franklin, who could mold ones handwriting to cursive perfection within a year, such that, in one look, teachers in the senior school could tell if you had been in Mrs Franklin’s 2 B class, years ago!
In Grade 4 we had Mrs Parveen and Mrs Rosaline and I’m sure many old Hallians remember the piercing sting of Mrs Parveen’s nails on their earlobes. Mrs Rosaline was quite gentle and kind to me and many years later, when I started teaching I had the pleasure and honour to be her colleague at another school!
Mrs Daniels in Grade 5 remains in my memory as someone who could curdle the blood of any self respecting 9 year old with one look. English language was my strong point then and so I was sort of a favourite of her. I would always get full marks in the weekly dictation and I usually sat at the very front, by her table. Once she asked me for a pen to mark the attendance. As I rummaged in my bag to find the pen, my seat fellow and friend, Ilyas Khan, whispered to me: ‘Don’t give her the pen…she drinks ink; that’s why she is so dark!’ Mrs Daniels heard him and erupted: “Teri maa’n ink peeti ho gee!”What transpired next is better left unsaid!
Corporal punishment was the norm then but teachers would not usually hit or slap students. Each had his own way of dealing with miscreants, ranging from pulling ears to inserting a pencil between fingers and squeezing them tightly. The iconic ‘PT Sirs’, Mota Sir and Patla Sir to us, would have small twig like sticks in their hand which they would wave ominously and sometimes flick on the unsuspecting behind of an idler, shouting ‘Sher kee moonch’ or something like that. Legend had it that the fathers had an instrument of torture which they used to evoke acquiescence and discipline among the more unruly. This was known as a ‘bender’… a mythical object that reportedly looked like a long rubber slipper and was used on the bottom of any miscreant to make him see the light. I never had the ‘good’ fortune to make acquaintance with this object but did hear firsthand accounts of its dizzying effects from some of my more adventurous friends, who had been called to the Principal’s office after hours.
Rainfall in Abbottabad is a frequent enough event and when it would rain, we would stand in the verandahs in breaks and see the water running down the gutters. Pages would be torn from rough copies and paper boats would float down the water channels. The more naughty ones would push the more ‘shareef’ ones like me from the verandah and into the rain.
Another iconic figure, closer to the boarders than the day scholars, was Miss Teresa Fernandez, affectionately or not so affectionately called, Moti Miss, by many. She ruled over the house with an iron hand, assisted by her faithful Man Friday, Bhaag! Many years later. After I became a teacher, I served at the same school as Miss Teresa as a colleague. She was quite old then and was still serving as a Matron / House mistress. She had scores of lovebirds, which she kept as pets in a large cage and seemed to know each one of them by the names she had given them. Miss Teresa passed away in 1997 after a period of illness and was buried in a graveyard near PMA. I remember it was raining cats and dogs that day!
The three fathers I clearly remember from Junior School are Father Zonnewelde, Father Copray and Father Thijssen. All were very loving and amiable gentlemen and good friends with my father. I remember Christmas Cakes being prepared specially and sent to them to extend season’s greetings!
Another event I remember from 1972, when I was in Grade 3 was when Abbottabad became home to savage riots against Ahmedis. We were in school when an unruly, vicious mob gathered outside the school and tried to enter the school forcefully. The fathers locked us inside the classrooms and told us to squat under the desks and to keep totally quiet. I remember squatting under the desk and looking into the big eyes of my class fellow, Tehmina, feeling afraid and exhilarated at the same time. Thankfully, the ordeal was over sooner than later and we came out unscathed from the rather alarming experience.
The other big event 6 years after joining school was shifting to the senior school. So the fifth graders after being promoted were to join Grade 6 in the senior section. The senior section was a totally different campus some 5 km away from the Junior School and the event, for me, was full of dread and premonition. My elder brother had left the senior school the same year after doing his SC and so there was no one I could look for support there now.
Anyway, the day arrived when I was to go to the senior school campus and the moment I alighted from my bus, my heart beating as if it would bounce right out, my worst fears were realized. Instead of the familiar looking, kindly faces of teachers we had grown accustomed to over the last many years, here we saw severe looking masters, their black-cloaks trailing behind them, giving them a rather ‘Draculean’ look. They were interspersed with white cloaked Fathers with red sashes tied around their middles. The very first day in senior school I was given a sharp box to my midriff by a senior boy who thought I had thrown a stone at him. And so my 7 year odyssey at the senior school started with a bang!
This seven year odyssey is filled with memories, some pleasant and some not so pleasant. We were greatly in awe of the prefects and they knew it too, so it was thought best to steer clear of them. Day-scholars were always considered second grade citizens of Burn Hall and the boarders and seniors would consider it their god-given right to share our lunch and also require the lowly day-scholars to bring home made delicacies like French toasts and ‘anda paratha’ for them. My mother always thought I was a most popular and generous little boy as I often requested her to make these for my ‘friends’ at school; little did she know that this generosity was more inspired by fear than kindness. That said, I must also acknowledge the remarkable fact that all students of Burn Hall formed a fraternity in which personal wealth or social position of parents had no say. I was from a middle class family; my father had left the Army as a Captain and had a job in the PMA. Many of my class fellows and friends were from political or feudal backgrounds. Their fathers were Nawabs, political figures or luminaries in their own way, but it did not matter to any of us while we were at school.
The teachers at senior Burn Hall in those days were in a class of their own. They were iconic figures who could often find themselves teaching the brothers, sisters and even fathers of their current students and would sometimes pass scathing remarks about the ineptitude of their forbearers. There were some, like Mr Hashmi, Mr Jafri and Mr Hamadani who would only teach the senior classes and seemed distant and inaccessible to puny 6 graders like me, but there were those like Mr Mazharullah, who would teach both seniors and juniors. Mr Mazharullah was a very interesting person. He must have been in his late 30’s then but he seemed ageless. Although he taught Islamiat, he was clean-shaven and always immaculately dressed in a suit and tie. Islamiat was taught in English then and it was our assumption that Mr Mazharullah could not speak Urdu. The truth of the matter was that he spoke excellent Urdu, Persian and Arabic but his forte was telling stories. I remember the pin-drop silence in which he would tell a story, complete with sound effects and a variety of facial expressions as his audience of spell bound school boys strained their ears so as not to miss a single word. He could, when the fancy took him, take a sewing needle and a piece of thread out of his pocket and smilingly pass the needle, thread and all, through one cheek into the mouth and out the other cheek without spilling any blood. I have seen it at close quarters and still wonder how he did it!
Miss Minto taught us Maths and she could be a tyrant. Her gray hair wrapped in a while dopatta, wearing her trade mark Scholl’s, her gaunt figure commanded awe and fear. Mr Ghani with his hallo of gray, frizzy hair taught us Geography and was an excellent but easy-going teacher. He had invented a mythical character, a travelling salesman, Jack, who went around the world and through his travels we learned the geography of the world and enjoyed the experience.
Grade 7 also stands out in memory as this was the year when I had my first cigarette and that too in school. Younger readers may not identify with this as times have changed and smoking is now looked down upon as a disagreeable and un-civic habit but in the 70’s smoking was the ‘in thing’. The budding PTV was rife with cigarette advertisements, which proclaimed: ‘Men demand Capstan … the world over, and ‘Come for the style and you’ll stay for the taste’ with appealing images of rugged, handsome men with attractive damsels in tow. The sight of the firebrand Mr Bhutto, with the 555 pack held high in the palm of his hand, as he stood before massive crowds and roused their passion with his oratory skills, could easily convince timid, 7th graders like me to take up smoking. The fact that not only did most of our male teachers smoke but and some ladies too, added fuel to the fire…or more appropriately fire to the cigarette!
One boarder friend one day declared that he had some ‘fags’ (popular nick name for cigarettes in those days) and that I could join him in a smoke by the swimming pool if I was so inclined. It was an exciting thought and a scary one too. As he looked rather skeptically at me, my first inclination was to say no but I thought of the humiliation and dishonor that would inadvertently follow this cowardly response and suddenly I heard myself saying OK. Now, no one in my family smoked; not my father, not any uncle, no one, and so this was a big deal for me. It was decided that we would do the deed after the break in the fifth period. Two students could not leave the class together and as my friend asked the teacher permission to go to the bathroom, he winked and nodded at me. After a couple of minutes I too approached the teacher for the same reason. I usually never went out during classes and so it seemed a very daring thing for me to do. I rushed to the back of the swimming pool, keeping a wary lookout for the PTIs.
My friend was already there and rummaging in the grass where he had hidden a match box. A filtered cigarette materialized in his fingers. He looked rather condescendingly at me and inquired if I had done this kind of thing before. While I wanted to raise my stature and maintain my self-respect by answering in the affirmative, I reluctantly shook my head. Very ceremoniously he set fire to the tip of the ‘fag’, took a drag and handed it to me. Though I had seen countless people smoking, I had no idea what to do other than putting the cigarette between my lips. My ‘friend’ patiently explained what I was supposed to do and as I followed his instructions, I erupted in a violent fit of cough. That brought the experience to an unceremonious and anti-climactic end. As we headed back to the class feeling much older and wiser, my provident friend handed me a ‘Naz Pan Masala’ to camouflage the tobacco odour and thus was I initiated in the dark, grown up world of cigarette smoking, which I continued to dwell in for about 20 years before quitting!
Burn Hall had girls then and though their number in ratio to the boys was miniscule, this made them all the more significant and notable. They were the movers and shakers in my eyes and only the very intrepid and heroic of the boys could venture near them. We did not have a ‘hair code’ then and students would often wear long hair down to their shoulders. That combined with flared, bell-bottom trousers and tie knots as big as a fist, completed the 70’s hippie look.
Another teacher that is synonymous with the old Burn Hall was Sir F X Khan. Sir Khan taught History, was a house master and an imposing figure of the time. We were terrified of him and there would be ‘pin-drop’ silence in his class. Once in Grade 8, he asked the meaning of ‘volunteer’. It seemed no one knew the meaning and as I tried to look anywhere but at him and wished the ground would open up and swallow me, the worst happened. ‘You’, he pointed at me, ‘What is the meaning of volunteer?’ As I stood up with trembling legs and looking sheepish, he said: ‘If I ask you all who wants to go and drown himself in the dirty canal outside, and you raise your hand…you are a volunteer’! Needless to say, I never forgot the meaning of volunteer after that. Sir Khan was a very loving person and his bark was definitely worse than his bite. Many teachers of that time were an institution in themselves and another one of those was Mrs Sarwar, who taught Geography and English. Resplendent in her Sari and oozing grace and charm, she could quell any miscreant with just a stare!
I feel that a wholesome development of the personality and a good set of values was what Burn Hall gave us. Marks and grades were just one part of the package. Unlike now, when most schools focus on just marks and grades, Burn Hall was more concerned with developing the character and personality of the student, which was considered as important as the academic results!
I remember Father Klaver and Father Conroy as headmasters of the senior school during my time. The Fathers were commanding but affectionate figures, who were extremely hardworking and devoted. They had dedicated their lives to their mission and went about their tasks in a serious and professional manner. Each person would usually perform the tasks of many. There were no frills, ostentation or extravagance in their way of life. Father Johnson was a larger than life figure, who was not just the Bursar but also looked after many administrative matters. I vaguely remember Father Johnson at the main gate of the school in the morning, inspecting the dress of the day scholars that walked in. His good natured remark to a shabbily dressed boy still resonates in my ears, ‘Go home to your bay-bay (mother in local dialect)’! Ghulam Chacha was another figure synonymous with Burn Hall of the 70s. He was the only office peon and whenever he entered a classroom with his red, notice book, a wave of excitement would swell through the class, as it could mean a notice about a holiday!
The canal was a captivating part of the school. The amount of water in it would change according to the time of the year and it was a place to sail boats, make dams and find crabs and fish. What else can a 12 year old ask for? Once it rained so much that the canal overflowed. The water came over the bridge and a holiday was declared. Our bus was sent back from the gate in the morning and we reached home unexpectedly early, furiously chanting ‘No more English, no more French, No more sitting on the hard, hard bench!’The pond garden, where the admin block stands now, was another magical part of the school that is sadly no more. With the branches of weeping willows and bottle brushes bending over it, the pond garden was full of water lilies and lotuses, their glistening, waxy leaves floating majestically and the silvery gold fish darting in and out of their roots. The quaint, old well with its red roof seemed out of a fairy tale and indeed that is what that time seems to me now…straight out of a fairy tale!
One of the big pleasures of my school days was the break, in which one could go to the canteen run by Khan Bahadur Chacha. Two samosas, that were usually stored in a trunk, and a coke with some Coke / Fanta candies, all in under Rs 10, could make the blues go away, at least for the duration of the break. If one was feeling extravagant, a bun-kebab with coke was the preferred choice. I still remember the taste of those treats that has remained elusive since then.
The ‘hill’ was another enchanting part of the school that seems diminished in size now because of new construction and also maybe because I am bigger. The area around the school was very sparsely populated then. There were corn fields opposite the main gate, where now we have shopping plazas with gaudy facades and there were small silvery fish in the nullah running along Mansehra Road.
The road itself was lined with stately poplar trees that formed a green canopy for as far away as the eye could see. The boundary wall of the school at the front was just waist-high and there wasn’t a wall at the back at all, with the school hill merging into the rolling hills at the back which went up to the Shimla Hill.
It was 1975, I was in Grade 7 and it seemed that the Fathers were starting to loosen their hold on Burn Hall. Episodes of ill-discipline and rebellion had become more frequent. Smoking was rampant and bullying was the order of the day. The political situation in the country was also deteriorating fast. On 5th July 1977 Gen Zia ul Haq imposed martial law and postponed the elections. The school now had some young blood ‘brothers’, who were not prescient and gentle like their older colleagues and more inclined to quell mischief with force. There were two of them, one I remember as Pat Murray. He had a heavy bike and seemed to be not much older than the SC boys.
It was when I was in Grade 8 that things came to a head. It had been brewing for quite some time now but the senior boys were more in the thick of it. One day, just after the second break, as a class was going, there was a commotion in the corridors. Suddenly two senior boys bust into the classroom and shouted: ‘It’s a strike…everybody come out of the class’! Getting out of the class was always the better option than staying in and so no one questioned the order. As we came out we saw that it was chaos. All the boys were running around and no teachers could be seen. Suddenly some boys started breaking window panes and throwing furniture around. As I came out of the building, I saw Pat Murray’s motorbike, his pride and joy, burning ferociously in the drive. Someone had set it on fire. The rumour was that Pat Murray had hit a boy in the stomach and had badly hurt him. I saw boys breaking window panes with bare knuckles, blood streaming down their arms. Someone said that the Fathers had locked themselves up in the Principal’s office, which allegedly, had a secret cellar under it. Anyway, soon not one window pane was left unbroken and the school was in shambles. The police soon arrived and restored some order. The school was closed soon after!
We heard later that there were vested interests at work to initiate the ‘strike’ but I have no personal knowledge of that. I think the Mill Hill Society had lost some heavyweight icons like Bishop Hittanga, Father Scanlon and Father Johnson in quick succession within a span of 2-3 years and the Rawalpindi diocese must have found it difficult to replace them suitably. The vacuum that was created with their departure must have been impossible to fill and so the diocese decided to review and change its strategy and passed the baton to the Pak Army. I am sure they loved Burn Hall and knew that if the Army took over, the school would be in capable hands.
We received a letter in the mail afterwards from the Mill Hill Fathers saying it was no longer possible for them to run the school and that would now be run by the Pakistan Army. Although I was only an eighth grader then, I remember tears welling up in my eyes as my parents read the letter. It was a sad day for us all and the end of an era!
The next time I was in school, though the building apparently looked the same but something had changed. It was Army Burn Hall now! The stately Chinars lining the imposing driveway had their trunks covered in whitewash and there were many unfamiliar faces in the staff, with some attired in the army uniform. We learned that the new Principal was a Lt Col in the army and his name was Mr Bashir Ahmed Malik. We also had a Chief Instructor by the name of Major Tufail and an Adjutant, Captain Rashid. They were all in uniform. We learned that many of the old teachers had left and many new ones had joined.
As I was generally a good student, I had been promoted to Junior Cambridge. It was the norm then that the top half of Grade 8, in term of academics, was sent to JC, while the bottom half automatically joined the Matric stream in Pre-matric. After spending a couple of months in JC, I sent in an application to the Principal requesting that I wanted to join Pre-matric. This was somewhat unprecedented as the Matric section usually comprised a rough and rowdy bunch and the Board results of Matric were usually dismal. My application was viewed rather suspiciously and I was summoned by the Principal to ask why I wanted to switch, but eventually my request was accepted and I found myself in Pre-matric, where I made some friendships that last to this day.
Soon some other students in JC also followed my example and joined the Pre-matric class, this also included Amir Sohail, who now is a very successful medical specialist, practicing in Abbottabad. Then something happened that had never happened before, at least to my knowledge. A girl also joined Pre-matric. The whole ambiance of the class had changed and after two years this class came up with a magnificent result, the best that any Matric class had produced yet! Amir Sohail stood first in the school and won a gold medal. Later after about two years the same Amir Sohail stood first in FSc in the BISE Peshawar, setting a new record!
Many new teachers had joined after the Army had taken over. Some of them could not survive more than a few months and many left after a year. The Army had its own priorities and closely cropped haircuts was one of them. There was no check on haircuts in the old days and boys would wear hair down to their shoulders, if the fancy took them. Now haircuts were minutely examined after the morning assembly by Capt Rashid, a handsome young officer, and many of us spent considerable time and effort in trying to smooth down our hair with water before the assembly.
The Army was big on discipline and that made it all the more thrilling for the more adventurous among us to do what we were not supposed to do. One such escapade was bunking (leaving school without permission) during school hours. Once I, along with some like-minded friends, planned to take off from the laboratory side after the second break. There was a hole under the boundary wall that had come into existence and broadened in size over time because of its vital role in such exploits. One of our co-conspirators who was the last to go through the hole, carried a lot of weight, literally, and as luck would have it he got stuck in the hole at his waist. The PTI had seen us from afar and he was fast approaching, his whistle resounding and the stick in his hand waving furiously. We tried to pull our plump friend from the other side but the hole needed to be bigger or our friend needed to be slimmer. We had to do what any red blooded teenager would have done. We ran for our lives and left him there, secure in the knowledge that the PTI would extend whatever ‘help’ was needed. Needless to say, the next morning we found ourselves, hands down, outside the Adjutant’s office!
There were occasions when the ever hungry boarders would prowl the back of the canteen, in the middle of the night, Baba Greenface notwithstanding, to nip any chicken that had strayed from its coop from the support staff’s quarters. On very rare occasions such a prize would be ‘roasted’ on a campfire on the hill and the devoured within minutes, however ‘rare’ it would be!
The National Cadet Corps (NCC) was another fascinating activity that was introduced by the Army. We would wear a khaki uniform and march till our arms became numb. We enjoyed the firing at the ‘chand mari’ and I’m quite proud of the fact that I stood first in the written test conducted at the end of the year long training. The memory of this pride is marred by one incident that happened at the passing out parade and the prize distribution ceremony. We had lined up in the football ground, all ready for the Chief Guest to arrive. The sun was bright and hot and very soon my mouth started feeling as dry as sandpaper and I started to feel a bit dizzy. Since, I was to receive a prize, I was in the front row and there seemed no escape. I thought I would be able to ride over the dizziness but as luck would have it, as my name was called to receive the prize, I felt my legs buckling and next thing I knew I was lying flat on the ground in a faint. Needless to say I had to collect my prize later!
Those were the good old days when extremism and terrorism were unheard of and Abbottabad was a peaceful, quaint, old town. There was a town day every week in which boarders could go to the city for the day and some favourite haunts were Mona Lisa (having a Monte Carlo Sandwich there was a must), the Kaghan Café known for its French Toasts and Shami Kebabs and of course the Kala Khan Tikka Shop near the Taj Mahal Cinema. Kala Khan was alive then and he would rule over his small stall with great authority. He was usually very nice to us students and would put in an extra, complimentary ‘seekh’ if he was in a good mood.
With the advent of the Army, the school became more organized and competitive. Lt Col B A Malik was very soon promoted to Colonel and then to Brigadier. He was a loving person with genuine concern for his students, but he never compromised on principles. Once he came to our class in the absence of the regular teacher and asked us to write an essay. The essays were sent later to him to be checked and I still remember that he wrote some very good comments on mine in his green ink. He later commended me personally on the quality of the essay, which was very inspiring for me then.
As the end of our Matric approached, we came to know that college classes are to start at Burn Hall. The college block construction was underway and so in 1979, after I took my exam, I was among the first batch of boys that were to form the first ever FSc class at Burn Hall. Gen Zia ul Haq, the Chief Martial Law Administrator, was invited to inaugurate the college block and I remember shaking hands with him and taking him around the block with some other students.
We had some excellent teachers in our F Sc, which included Mr Sattar for Maths and Mrs Yasmin Durrani for Biology. Mr Yamin Ahmed, was a very popular house master and teacher of English, who also was the first staff editor of ‘The Hallmark’, the college magazine that first came out in 1979 under his supervision. I was the adviser English section for it. Mr Mukhtar Shah also taught me ‘bombastic’ English and later also became a colleague at another school when I started teaching. His wit and friendly attitude was always inspiring.
Another legendary figure I have to mention here is Mr Bashir Ahmed Soaz, an Urdu teacher par excellence and a distinguished poet and man of letters. Mr Soaz would come striding to the class, puffing furiously on his Princeton, which he would stub out just before entering the class. I now realize what a gem he was and I am so grateful that I was able to learn so much from him in the 4 years I was in his Urdu class. My interest in Urdu literature has greatly enriched my life and the credit for this goes mainly to him. When he was so inclined, we would cajole him into reciting one of his own poems for us and I can still hear him reciting in his rich, baritone: ‘Soaz wohi jo ghuncha dehan hai, Moj e saba raftaar hai jiski …’
Miss Yasmin Daurrani was another devoted teacher who taught us Biology. She was very young then and probably it was her first teaching job but because of her dedication and devotion, I developed an interest in Biology and later went on to join a medical college, but that is another story.
Burn Hall was and is an integral part of my life and there are many more associated memories that I can share but I think it would be prudent to stop here.
But I would be amiss if I did not mention here that my dear wife, Saima, is also a Hallian and so that is another blessing that we share. I must also inform my dear readers (to put the record straight, on my wife’s insistence) that she was much junior to me and was in Junior School when I was in the senior section! Later my daughter Amen, who is now at University, also attended Burn Hall for her HSSC.
I am glad that I have once again established a new connection with Burn Hall. 37 years after saying good bye to it for good, my youngest son, Ahmed, gained admission there in F Sc recently. When I first went to inquire about admissions I was very glad to see the school looking so spick and span. Of course it has grown a lot in size and there are many new buildings around. The pond garden, which was a magical place for me, is no more and an imposing administration block stands in its place. The people I met were helpful and amiable. It was a pleasure to meet the current Principal, Brig Paracha, who came across as a larger than life person with a cheerful demeanor and affable nature. The Chief Instructor, Col Abbasi’s ebullience and geniality was particularly striking, whenever I met him, and so it was with a great sense of relief and reassurance that we left Ahmed in their care.
It was a great pleasure for me to go through the coffee table history book of Burn Hall published under the editorship of Brig Paracha and Col Abbasi. It is indeed a treasure trove of pictures, memorabilia, interesting interviews and all things Burn Hall. I can see the amount of painstaking effort and hard work that must have gone into its compilation and I salute them for it.
I was amazed to see that there are two people in Burn Hall who were there when I was there and are still there after about 40 years. These are Mr Raazaq, the waiter, and Mr Jehangir, the laboratory in charge.
Burn Hall has been an integral part of my life. Though much has changed much abides and the memories of the years I spent there still conjure up images which envelop me in a comforting glow and continue to inspire me. Thirteen of the most wonderful years of my life were spent there and the associations I have formed there, the bonds I have forged there and the lessons I have learned there will remain with me for the rest of my life.
It is indeed a matter of pride for me that my youngest son, Ahmed, is now a student at Burn Hall. History repeats itself!
(This article is based on personal recollections and memories of my time at Burn Hall. The pictures used have been taken from many sources; including friends’ personal collections, pictures posted on FB, magazines and public forums etc. I have obtained permission where ever possible and will be grateful for your indulgence for any oversight on my part.)
(The writer is an old Hallian who attended Burn Hall from 1968 to 1981. He is a Charles Wallace Visiting Fellowship Award winner (Education) and currently works as the Principal of a high school in Khewra.)